A Passive Green House Rises In Oregon

ET: There are only a handful of certified new construction Passive Houses in the U.S. Why do you think builders in this country have been slow to adopt Passive House standards?

Evans: It is more expensive to build a Passive House (or any type of green home) than a typical code-built house, which likely contributes to many builders and home owners not wanting to go green, especially as energy prices remain relatively affordable. Within the green building community, it could be that there has not been enough awareness about Passive Houses and what they can do. Also, some of the other green-building certifications, such as LEED and Earth Advantage, along with elements like solar panels and ground-source heat pumps, already are well-established and may appear sexier at first to potential builders and buyers than the Passive House design, whose green elements may not always be as visible.

However, builders are quickly becoming more receptive. There are only about a dozen certified Passive Houses now, but there are many more currently being built, particularly in the Northwest, so you’ll see that number change soon. We have had a good number of builders and architects visit our home both during the build and after completion because they were interested in learning about Passive Houses and how they work.

Passive House_Construction

image via Sarah Evans

ET: Treehugger alleges that while your project is to be commended for showing that a certified Passive House can look like a traditional home, there appears to have been some tension between the design requirements of the two. Is this true? If so, what areas of difficulty did you encounter?

Evans: The TreeHugger article stated that our house is box-shaped because Passive House design required it. However, this is not true. The shape of our house was entirely due to our budget — every corner or jog that was added to the house also added significantly to the cost, so we chose a box shape because it fit into our budget and still allowed us to do the type of internal room layout that we wanted. It is true that every design element — the placement and size of windows, the direction the house is facing, etc. — is taken into consideration when figuring out the home’s energy use. However, we found that there is plenty of room within the standards — if you are working with a Certified Passive House Consultant — to incorporate the design elements you want and still meet the Passive House requirements.

ET: In addition to Passive House, your home project has earned or is pending a variety of green home certifications, including Earth Advantage Platinum, Energy Star, Oregon High Performance Home, and Energy Trust Advanced Performance House. What are the advantages of multiple certifications?

Evans: One major benefit of multiple certifications is that many of them come with monetary incentives that make the home cheaper for us, including tax rebates and credits.

Also, another benefit is that we are having more energy professionals examine our project, each using different benchmarks, which helps verify that our home will perform as expected.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.